Why Chris Diamantopoulos Didn’t Read the Script Before His ‘Mrs. Davis’ Audition

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

Chris Diamantopoulos’ résumé is as varied as the characters he’s played, from action-movie villains to Mickey Mouse. The seasoned actor has appeared opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, performed on Broadway, and even attempted to break up Jim and Pam on “The Office.” He’s currently playing JQ, an Aussie anti-algorithm resistance leader, on Peacock’s “Mrs. Davis.” But despite his impressive career, he says that a role he played in high school shaped him more than any other.

​​What advice would you give your younger self?

It’s going to work out, despite the fact that it feels like there’s no way it can. Go easy on yourself. Focus less on what people think and more on doing the work.

What was your reaction when you first read the script for “Mrs. Davis?”

I didn’t first read a script. At first, they just gave me the scene to audition with when I met [creators] Damon [Lindelof] and Tara [Hernandez]. It was the scene from the second episode where I do the PowerPoint presentation to Betty Gilpin’s character, and I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I was intrigued. When I got the gig, I read the first couple of scripts and I was still confused, because the world [of the series] is so blissfully and brilliantly chaotic. What I came to realize as time went on as we were shooting [was that] the answers come when they need to come.

How does your process change when you don’t know the context of a scene?

You’ve really got to trust your filmmakers. You’ve got to trust the writers. We don’t often have context in our own lives. We sometimes charge through things in life with great bravado, and if we only knew what was on the other side of the wall, we’d probably be pretty scared. Sometimes, a disservice that can happen to an actor is they have all the information, so they have a harder time being able to eliminate the evidence that they have that information so that their performance can feel authentic. In this instance, being a little in the dark was helpful.

In a prototypical situation, you know all your lines, and you should know all the other person’s lines as well, so you know the conversation. But then the key is to trust that if you let go, you will respond in the moment because you’re listening, and your response will not only be what’s on the page, but it will be the correct service to the material and the character.

Mrs. Davis

“Mrs. Davis” Credit: Ron Batzdorff/Peacock

Auditioning is very specific and not necessarily indicative of the job you’re going to be doing.

It’s not even close to indicative of the job you’re going to do, because it’s this odd presentation. Now when we do it on self-tape, that’s a whole other slew of variables. Not only are you trying to tell them that you’re the appropriate person to embody this character, but you have to be in control of your lighting and where your camera is and if your sound is good, and then you have to edit it correctly. No one’s telling you, “We watched your tape. We really loved it. Would you mind doing it again, but lose the lisp?” There’s no feedback. The only feedback is: “You got the job.”

What’s your worst audition horror story?

I remember when I auditioned for Juilliard. I only had four or five days to prepare. I took those days to pick out an outfit. I didn’t take as much time to prepare a monologue. I did the monologue of Edmund, the bastard from “King Lear,” but they wanted two monologues. For my second one, I thought I’d wing it. I made up a monologue on the spot—I didn’t tell them that. I told them that it was from a made-up, obscure Canadian play. It was stream-of-consciousness ranting.

You’ve said in the past that if there’s a role you want, you’ll really fight for it. Was there ever one that got away?

Every one that I don’t get is the one that got away. I put so much effort into every audition that I do. Otherwise, what’s the point? I certainly remember auditioning for the role of Daniel Meade on “Ugly Betty,” [which ultimately went to Eric Mabius]. I remember giving a phenomenal audition for that. It was one where you would go into the room and there’d be casting, producers, and a director, and you would audition and then they’d go, “Thank you so much.” And you’re like, “Hang on. Do we want to work on it?” I still don’t know how any jobs are procured. I did a movie with Kurt Russell. He said to me he never had to audition for anything in his life. He said, “If I ever had to audition, I’d never have gotten the job.”

What role shaped you most as an actor?

Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha” in my 12th grade high school musical. Greatest performance I’ve ever given—I’m not kidding. One day, I want to play that role on Broadway. I had, even then, the emotional understanding of what that role meant from a literary standpoint, from a character standpoint. That set me on a path for wanting to find characters that I could disappear into.

What performance should every actor see and why?

I think everybody should have seen Bryan Cranston in [the 2018 Broadway production of] “Network,” because what he did as a performer on that stage was transformational. It was the very embodiment and distillation of vulnerability. The other one I love is the film version of “Amadeus.” Tom Hulce…is terrific.

This story originally appeared in the June 1 issue of Backstage Magazine.